Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Lion Who Fell from the Moon

Impressions, momentary and vivid, would wash over him: a potter’s vermilion glaze; the sky-vault filled with stars that were also gods; the moon, from which a lion had fallen….

My chills of recognition make me pause, just three lines into the story. Borges named this one after himself: “The Maker”, El Hacedor. Previous translators squirmed at the title “The Maker”. They thought people might confuse it with Our Maker; they feared leaving sulphurous traces of a heresiarch. So they considered and sometimes used “The Poet”, “The Artificer”, “Il Fabbro”. But Borges chose the English himself. And yes, he meant maker of worlds.
     The maker wrote this as he was nearing blindness in the vast library in Buenos Aires whose flying books had made love and married and danced the tango and fought with knives inside his mind. I can think of no one, not even Jung, who has housed so many books in his head and incited so much action between them. Borges was now engaged in constructing a total library in the imaginal realm, his version of paradise. Never a tame library, but one where wild things are.

...the moon, from which a lion had fallen….

    I am seized again with wild familiarity, the hot breath at my neck, claws at my kidneys.
    Borges’ line has a rhyming cousin, short, stocky and flat-faced, wearing a robe of skins hung with bronze mirrors. I know where to find it.  I keep it locked behind glass doors, along with the Red Book, The Golden Bough and other books that like to flap about and  prowl in the night.
     Sometimes the doors rattle and the key turns unassisted but today, things are quiet and I must fetch the book myself. It was published in Oxford five years after Borges died, so he could not have known it but might have known some of its sources. Its words are spun from conversations with shamans and elders of the Daur Mongols, lovers of horses, fermented mare’s milk, and drums that they ride to other worlds.
     Like Borges, these shamans are forever talking about tigers and lions. While Borges tried to make dreamtigers and was never quite satisfied, around Hailar or the Nomin River it’s not hard. Lie by the water watching butterflies and a tiger twice as long as you may come for you, as it would come for a tethered goat.
     Out here the lion may demand a deeper seeing, since you won’t see lions in Daur country with your ordinary eyes.
     The Oxford anthropologist asks a Daur shaman, Urgunge Onon, about this. He speaks from the tellings, which is how his people describe their traditional knowledge. Anthropologists may know about shamanism but the people who practice it in the old ways don’t have any “isms” in their vocabulary.
     Urgunge says, “Wild animals of the forest have two kings [khan], the tiger [tasaga] and the lion [arsalang].
     “Lion?” The anthropologist is amazed. “But you don’t have lions in Manchuria.”
     “They will be thinking of …er..what is it in English? Leopard. Leopard is just like lion, is that right?”
     “But you don’t have leopards either.”
     “No, that is true. So the conclusion is: in reality the khan of animals is the tiger; in imagination the khan is also the lion, even if we do not have lions in Mongolia. Everybody knows the story of the lion who jumped to catch the moon, then it died, you see. This is definitely the lion. The tiger never did that.”
     The lion who fell from the moon did not really die, of course. Borges knows that. So does Henri Rousseau, called the Customs Man.
     Some nights, coming in or out of sleep, I feel him lying with me on the bed, back to back.

Texts mentioned: 
"The Maker" in Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley (New York: Penguin Books, 1998).
Shamans and Elders: Experience, Knowledge and Power among the Daur Mongols  by Caroline Humphrey with Urgunge Onon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).

Art: "Sleeping Gypsy" by Henri (dit Douanier) Rousseau, 1897, in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The price Jung paid

If you choose to venture into Jung's Red Book, I strongly advise you to do so more cautiously than I did. I stayed with it for three days and nights, without much sleep, following Jung on his Underworld journey. There was one moment, in particular, when I became very angry with him.
    He recounts a vision in which he comes upon the mutilated corpse of a murdered girl, and this fills him with grief and rage. A veiled woman appears and tells him he must remove the child's liver and eat part of it, to atone for the crime. He must take on the guilt, because he is a man and a man was responsible. Jung writhes in resistance, disgusted and horrified, but finally complies.

I kneel down on the stone, cut off a piece of the liver and put it in my mouth.My gorge rises - tears burst from my eyes - cold sweat covers my brow - dull sweet taste of blood - I swallow with desperate efforts - it is impossible - once again and once again - I almost faint - it is done. The horror has been accomplished. [1]

I wanted to throw the book across the room, but stopped myself, reflecting that this tombstone of a tome would break the furniture. I read on. The woman who commanded this cannibal act throws back her veil, revealing a lovely face, and tells Jung, "I am your soul."
     You will need a strong stomach for some of this. And you will need to be ready to accompany Jung, quite literally, in and out of the madhouse. But persistence will be rewarded. The Red Book, never intended for public consumption, is essential and fascinating reading for those who want to understand the price Jung paid for his gifts. He went down into private hells and depths of madness and he got himself out. We see him struggling heroically to find a vocabulary and a model of understanding for his experiences, weaving for himself the ladders of words that will help to get him out of the pit. We see the seething cauldron from which his greatest work would eventually emerge.
     Jung culled the material for the Red Book - whose fine calligraphy and vivid illustrations and decorative features make it resemble a medieval illuminated manuscript - from the journals ('black books") he kept during the years of his "confrontation with the unconscious", when he walked the razor's edge between madness and genius. As he describes it, the "spirit of the depths" ripped him out of the comfortable, rational assumptions of the "spirit of our times" and dragged him, night after night, through the terrifying stages of Underworld initiation.
-    In a crater in a dark and terrifying world below, where black snakes threaten to destroy a red sun, he meets the prophet Elijah and his "daughter" Salome, the evil beauty responsible for the decapitation of John the Baptist in the Bible. Salome tells Jung - to his amazement and confusion- that they are brother and sister, the children of Mother Mary. Disbelieving and fearing for his sanity, Jung yells at her that she and the Elijah figure are only "symbols". Elijah reproves him, saying, "We are just as real as your fellow men. You solve nothing by calling us symbols." Jung's Elijah also instructs him that "your thoughts are just as much outside your self as trees or animals are outside the body." [2]
-   While he is trying to continue to lead a normal life, as a prominent psychoanalyst and the father of five children. Jung's sense of reality is being shaken by the raw power of his night visions, and by synchronistic phenomona during his days when he feels the forces of a deeper world pushing through. In December 1913, in a well-cut suit, he gives a polished lecture to the Zurich Psychoanalytical Society. Three nights later, he tells Elijah, "It seems to me as if I were more real here" - in the Underworld - "yet I do not like to be here." [3]
    As Jung confessed, anyone reading the last chapters of Liber Primus, the first part of the Red Book, out of context might conclude that the author was crazy. Brilliant and erudite, but crazy. Yet from such perilous adventures out there beyond the roped-in precinct of sanity, Jung derived his ideas about "psychological objectivity", one of the most stimulating elements in his later work. From his dialogues with his dream characters and his efforts to integrate and balance the powers that moved with them he developed his practice of active imagination.
    Jung told the Dutch artist Roland Horst that he developed his work Psychological Types from 30 pages of his Red Book [4], apparently the pages in which the encounters with Elijah and Salome take place and in which - after Jung has been squeezed by a giant black snake until the blood gushes out of him and his head has become that of a lion - Salome tells him, "You are Christ". [5]

-   Looking back on this passage in his inner and transpersonal life in 1925, from across the divide of the catastrophic Great War that some of his visions had foreshadowed, Jung told a seminar that "You cannot get conscious of these unconscious facts without giving yourself to them. If you can overcome your fear of the unconscious and can let yourself go down, then these facts take on a life of their own. You can be gripped by these ideas so much that you really go mad, or nearly so. These images...form part of the ancient mysteries; in fact, it is such fantasies that made the mysteries." [6]
    "I fell into the mystery," Jung states after he has been squeezed by the black snake and saluted by Salome [7]. Reading the Red Book, we see the enormity of the price Jung paid for his wisdom, and come to appreciate the extent of his courage and eventual self-mastery. This is a record of a thoroughly shamanic descent to the Underworld, and of long testing and initiation in houses of darkness from which lesser minds and feebler spirits might never have managed to find their way back.
1. C.G. Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus edited by Sonu Shamdasani (New York: Norton, 2009) 290.
2. ibid, 249
3. ibid, 248
4. Stephan Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead (Wheaton, IL: Quest, 1985) 6.
5. Red Book 252.
6. Jung, Analytical Psychology: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1925 edited by William McGuire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991) 98-99.
7. Red Book 254.

Many Selves. Drawing by Jung on page 169 of the facsimile of the Red Book.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Does your dream handbag have a kissing lock?

Though I'm a mere man who's never even carried a "European shoulder bag", I've come to know a bit about women's pocketbooks, and especially how they feature in dreams. I've talked with hundreds of women about their dreams of handbags over the years. In leading dream theater in my workshops I've been struck by how often a pocketbook has proven to be a key element in the drama - lost or stolen, at risk, flaunted or misused or swung as a weapon.
     The handbag in a dream may of course be just a handbag, one that needs to be checked or kept safe. Everyone knows someone who's had a handbag nabbed by a mugger, sometimes after dreaming this exact event, while failing to recognize a quite literal warning. If you tell me a dream in which your pocketbook is lost or stolen, my first step will be to encourage you to look for clues in the dream as to when and where this could happen, so you can avoid this situation in the future. We also know people who have rushed off to the airport without a passport or driver's license. So if you tell me you dreamed something like that, my first advice to you will be to check that you have your travel documents before you leave home on your next trip.
     Now let's consider the symbolism of a pocketbook and what it contains. By my observation, a woman's handbag often contains:

- ID such as driver's license
- keys
- credit cards
- cell phone
- currency
- change
- medicines
- a whole mess of personal stuff
- trinkets and lucky charms
- treats and snacks
- further ID

    Each of these literal items is rich in symbolism. Together, they represent power and identity, things we don't want to lose or have taken from us. One woman dreamed she was fighting off a giant panther with her pocketbook. That's power! She held up her own side so well that in a later dream the panther reappeared as her friend, purring like a kitty.
     Another woman dreamed she was at the office and kept leaving her pocketbook in a place where it was vulnerable. In the dream, she couldn't break this habit, even though she knew that a creepy man who might be a robber was prowling the halls and snooping around her things. When I invited her to compare the behavior of her dream self to that of her waking self, she was able to come up with an action plan that involved not giving up her power in her work situation.
     Another woman dreamed she had left her purse in church and needed to go back to retrieve it. She felt this reflected the fact that for part of her life, as a devout member of her congregation, she had given up her right to direct knowledge of the sacred, and was now reclaiming that.  
     A woman's pocketbook can represent her sexuality. You don't have to be a Freudian to see the possible sexual associations with the way it opens and closes. The catch on the vintage photo used here is actually called a "kissing lock".
     I remember wildly funny dream theater back during the (Bill) Clinton presidency in which we play-acted a dream in which Bill is trying to get into a woman's purse. Eons ago, at a dream conference, I couldn't miss the the sexual character of this type of dream while doing a dreamwork process with an attractive woman from Texas . In her dream, she is repeatedly and compulsively opening her purse and snapping it shut. As she recounted the dream, in front of 200 people, she couldn't stop herself vamping and gyrating.
     Again, a bag can just be a bag. I had a recurring motif in dreams over a period of 18 months - that a little grey carry-on bag I always took with me on trips was lost or stolen. The context was different in each of these dreams, but the outcome was the same. The dreams prompted me not to carry my passport or valuables in that bag, which was a good thing, because 18 months after the first lost-bag dream, that grey carry-on was stolen from a car I rented in California. There was symbolism in the literal event that followed the dream. On the day it was stolen, that grey carry-on bag contained a working draft of a book I later decided not to publish.
     Playing with our dream symbols is fun. We also need to be more literal about dreams and more symbolist about the incidents of waking life. That's my bag.

Image: 1860 women's handbag with "kissing lock". Los Angeles County Museum of Art,

Monday, December 15, 2014

The state of your soles

Walking a lake shore, I come upon something small and white and solitary on the wet sand. From my original angle of vision, it looks like a tiny ribcage. When I come closer, I see it is a sandal with many straps. I feel I am looking at a symbol from a dream. Abandoned between the confident lakefront mansions and the cold lake, looking so much like part of a little person, the lone sandal makes me think of soul - a part of soul that has been left somewhere away from home.
      In dreams, the state of our footwear often suggests the state of our souls. You can hear the echo of "soul" in "sole". A dream of lost shoes may invite us to think about where on the roads of life we may have lost or misplaced soul. Sometimes you can reach back into that kind of dream in order to look for lost shoes, and that search may take you back to a place in your life where you lost something more important - vital energy and identity - that you can now reclaim.
     Shoes not only have soles. They have ties, and the state of your laces or straps in a dream may say something about connections - "old ties" or new ones. A woman getting ready to attend a high school reunion in Manhattan dreamed she was urgently seeking shoes that would be comfortable for walking yet smart enough to suit her taste. A salesman in Bloomingdale's persuaded her to purchase a pair of sneakers with laces made of genuine, but flexible, gold. She smiled at the thought that after all the years since graduation, her ties to her classmates were "golden", and that she would be comfortable with them in the big city.
    A Freudian psychiatrist I know dreamed that her shoes were far too tight; they were torturing her feet and making it nearly impossible for her to walk. When she reflected on this, she realized that her Freudian approach was cramping her ability to do her job. She expanded her studies, embracing Jung and other approaches to the psyche and its healing. Now, in her dreams, her shoes fitted just right.           
    In some dreams, we find ourselves wearing shoes that would be highly unlikely in regular life, except at a costume party. We seem to be cross-dressing, or wearing the footwear of a different historical period, or dispensing with shoes altogether in a primal landscape. When we inspect the bodies we inhabit in dreams of this kind, we sometimes discover that our dream self slipped into someone else's situation, in a different place or a different era. The state of our shoes in such dreams (and other details) may be a clue to connections within a soul family that includes personalities in different times.
     That thought has been of great interest to me since I dreamed that I visited my favorite professor at a research institution where he was doing some remarkable work that involved pairs of shoes. The professor is Manning Clark, the famous Australian historian, who was a great friend and mentor to me when I was a student and a precocious lecturer at the Australian National University. Manning died in 1991, but I have had many intriguing encounters with him since.
     In the dream involving shoes, Manning showed me that he is now busily engaged in studying "parallel lives". This meta-historical approach seems to involve tracking how choices made and actions taken by two people living in different times impact each other's fortunes, by a process of causation that you can only grasp if you can step outside linear chronology. One of the pairs Manning had selected for study was Lenin and Dionysius of Syracuse (a tyrant of ancient Greece). Each time the professor finished work on one set of parallel lives, he moved a pair of shoes to a different position on the far side of his desk. This was evidently a kind of tally, but I felt the shoes signified something more.
    I am thinking now of that lone sandal on the lake beach. There is a sandal angel, very important in the pathworking and astral travel protocols of certain Mystery and kabbalistic orders. His name is Sandalphon. He wears sandals in the presence of his Maker, and leather footgear in the presence of Shekinah, the Divine Feminine. Some say he was once the prophet Elijah, or Elias. He presides over the astral body and the soul journeys we make in this vehicle. Some believe he watches over the big journeys that precede birth and follow death, which involve putting on and discarding "garments", like soft shoes.
    I think also of the symbolism of everyday life. The other day, I noticed a pair of women's high-heeled shoes, muddied and scuffed, abandoned under a tree on a gritty urban street. And I thought again about those dreams in which shoes that are lost or abandoned can reflect soul loss. 
    In my book Dreaming the Soul Back Home, I discuss shoe dreams as one of the main categories of dreams that encourage us to ask where soul has gone and make sure that we have proper grounding when we are walking our soul paths. The state of our soles may indeed reflect the state of our souls.

Abandoned shoes (c) Robert Moss

Sunday, December 14, 2014

When your dream road is under construction

One recurring theme in my dreams, and maybe yours, over many years, is that my road is blocked by construction work. In one of these dreams, I found a road completely impassable with great hills of rubble and huge bulldozers ahead of me.
    I woke frustrated, and decided to try to get back inside the dream and find a way forward. When I reentered the dream, I discovered I had a companion I hadn't noticed before. He looked like an impossibly beautiful, radiant double of myself. He wasn't blocked by the construction, He shot up something like a storm drain, flying Superman-style. Then it hit me - I'm dreaming and I can fly. I flew up the tunnel after him, and entered one of the most powerful life-changing experiences of my life.
   Since then, I still find my road blocked at times, in my dreams, and often don't remember that I can fly. Sometimes I have to turn back, or wait my time (as we have to do on a highway when there is literal construction and flagmen determining when we can stop or go).
   Sometimes my dream self does something as cool as flying but different. On quite a few nights, he has solved the problem of a blocked road by picking up his car as if it's a toy and lifting it over the obstacles.
   A variant is coming to a point where the road is unfinished, or the bridge just stops halfway across a body or water or an overpass. Those dreams make me want to look very carefully at what direction I'm following in my work and my life and check whether that's really the way I want to go. If it is, then I'll consider what roadwork I need to do in order to go forward.     
It's cool to remember, in dreams, that we can fly. It can also be very helpful to be reminded that we have work to do and given some orientation on how to approach that.
    Of course, a dream of difficult road conditions may be a quite literal travel advisory. So when you dream of a road being blocked, don't fail to ask whether you recognize that location and might be driving somewhere like that. Recognizing a dream rehearsal of this kind can save a lot of aggravation on the ordinary roads.
    At the same time, a precognitive or admonitory dream may still hold great symbolic resonance. The dream may anticipate a literal event in external reality that will, in itself, he highly symbolic.
     One more thought about dreams of construction. Whether the work is being done on a road, or a house, or something else in a dream, you may want to pause to reflect on whether what is really under construction is you.

drawing (c) Robert Moss

Saturday, December 13, 2014

How many floors in your dream house?

"In the Norse heaven of our forefathers, Thor's house had five hundred and forty floors; and man's house has five hundred and forty floors."  The voice is that of Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay "Conduct of Life".
    We begin to see the truth of it in dreams in which we discover that our home has an extra level, or many of them. I have yet to meet a dreamer who claims to have discovered all five hundred and forty floors. Yet when  we discover even a single room we had not opened before, we discover that we are more than we know.

     To spin from Norse gods to the Bible, in the dream house, there are many mansions - extra stories and hidden rooms and basements, wings of possibility.
     The state of a dream house may reflect the state of the body. If the dream house is in need of repairs, or there's a problem with the plumbing or the furnace, you may want to consider whether there is a health advisory concerning a corresponding part of the body..
     Different rooms in the dream house may represent different functions, of body or soul. The kitchen may represent the digestive system, or the state of the family, or of our creativity (since the kitchen is the place where we cook things up and often the hub of family life).
When I'm living in an apartment in my dreams (which I have not done in waking life for 30 years) I ask myself "what am I a part of, or apart from?" 
    I love the sense of expanding life possibility that comes when I am in a dream house that has levels or rooms beyond any physical house I know.
    I'm intrigued by how life memories help design my dream houses, which are sometimes composites of several past places where I have lived. 
     When I find myself moving to a new place in my dreams, I'll ask myself whether this could be preview of a literal house move (maybe one I haven't yet considered in ordinary life). I'll also ask: what changes in my life situation are in store for me in a larger sense?
     In dreams, we often find ourselves back in the old place, a childhood home or a home we shared with a former partner. Being back in the old place could be a journey back across time, or into a parallel reality in which a parallel self never left the old situation - and/or an invitation to reclaim vital soul energy and identity we left behind when we made a major life change. 
     There are dream houses that are not of this world, places of learning and adventure and initiation in the Imaginal Realm. These may be places of encounter with a second self, an aspect of our multidimensional Self. Over many years, I have found myself traveling in dreams to an old house on a canal in Europe, the home of an eccentric scholar who is something of a magus, with an extraordinary library and collection of working tools of magic. It took me a couple of visits before I recognized that this dream house belongs to me,
     Jung's dream of a "many-storied house" led him for the first time to the concept of the "collective unconscious" (and also to his rift with Freud, who refused to accept the depth of this dream). Jung found in his multi-level dream house a "structural diagram of the human psyche." In the dream, he became aware that there was a story below the respectable middle-class environment in which he was living. When he went downstairs, he found successive stories below his previous consciousness: a darkened floor with medieval furnishings, and below that a beautifully vaulted Roman cellar, and down below that - when he lifted a stone slab by a ring - a primal cave with scattered bones and pottery and the two skulls.

Image: The so-called "Wooden Gagster" house in Archangel, Russia, built without permit or architect, demolished in 2008. Photo credit: Wikipedia, Mr 850

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Do four-year-olds dream precognitive dreams?

This just in from dream teacher Valerie McCarney:

"We were in Virginia and like always, my grandson got into bed with me to tell me his dream. In this one , he was in a forest of mean trees. The trees all had faces and arms and he had lots of sticks and rocks to throw at them. There was one little squirrel and he wanted to save him from the trees. He asked me to draw it and I made a quick sketch. 
   "Later that day we took a ride to a Christmas event at Busch Gardens. Old Country was set up as European countries, all decorated for Christmas.
    "We crossed the bridge into Ireland and there was his tree. He said, 'See this is the tree was that in my dream last night.' Then he ran into it. It is the tree in the photo I took.
     "it is so important to get children started young believing in the power of dreams."

Drawing and photo of the "mean tree" by Valerie McCarney

Monday, December 8, 2014

Getting a second opinion from Jung on the Battle of the Giants

There is a commotion outside. I go to the window and see an army is encamped along the edge of a body of water where a battle is taking place between a giant turtle (the size of a dozen men) and a giant crocodile. I call to the others to come and see. When I turn back, I see that the army has saved the turtle, which is being transported to safer waters. They have constructed or opened a kind of raceway and the turtle is swimming between walls. Now I see that there are actually two giant turtles.
    I look out to the water again. Beyond military lines, the crocodile stands on a headland, tail raised like a scorpion, apparently triumphant for now. I understand that the conflict will be resumed. It's part of life. The role of the army is to ensure that neither party destroys the other.

I woke from this first dream of the night feeling both excited and satisfied. In the dream, I was an observer. I felt that I was being shown something of huge importance in life.
    I know both Turtle and Crocodile as members of my personal mythic bestiary. I have swum with sea turtles and I am from a country famous for crocodiles. I know that in life there are contests between opposing forces and attitudes that must continue if life itself is to go on.
    Instead of spending much time in self-analysis of the dream, I made a quick drawing and decided to ask Jung for a second opinion. Who better? I had already had it in mind to do my daily bibliomancy with Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, a book of seminal importance in my life and the most personal and accessible of his works. However, when I reached into the Jung section in a glass-fronted bookcase in my personal library, the shelf elves had other ideas. Another volume in Jung’s Collected Works came flying off the shelf, striking me lightly on the chest.
     Naturally, I changed my ideas about where to look for guidance and took this flying book to my desk. Its title is Two Essays on Analytical Psychology which seemed to match the revelation of the two turtles in my dream rather nicely. The volume is a dual edition of two of his early essays, Volume VII in the Collected Works. I opened the book at random and read this:

"There is no energy unless there is a tension of opposites; hence it is necessary to discover the opposite to the attitude of the conscious mind...Repressed content must be made conscious so as to produce a tension of opposites, without which no forward movement is possible…Just as high always longs for low and hot for cold, so all consciousness, perhaps without being aware of it, seeks its unconscious opposite, lacking which it is doomed to stagnation, congestion and ossification. Life is born only of the spark of opposites." 

I saw that there was no need to invent a snapper to carry the essence of my dream. Jung had given me one. Life is born only of the spark of opposites.

    This little incident from this dreamer’s life is a practical example of how we can turn to a book to give us a second opinion on a dream. Our curiosity may of course take us far beyond the initial passage we find when we open a book at random. I found myself drawn, irresistibly, to-read both the essays in that volume of Jung, in which we find his mind devising and developing theories of aspect psychology, the shadow and the relations between the ego-self and the collective unconscious which were to become fundamental to his approach.

Drawing by RM

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Healing with twisting, twisting words

Yaminahua shamans in Peruvian Amazonia use complex, opaque metaphorical language in their power songs, which are their most important tools for journeying and opening an interactive space with the spirits – and for bringing energy and healing through. This is called, literally, “twisting-twisting words”. One shaman explains that with ordinary words, you’ll “crash” in this deeper reality; “twisting words” let you circle around and see.
    Wherever the old ways of dreaming and soul healing are still alive, poets of consciousness - those born and dreamed to be our shamans and Speakers - know what this means.We'll never be able to travel the song lines and the story lines into the space where worlds are made and can be recreated until we come up with our own fresh words.
    We need twisting words to change and twist the behavior of the body, in the direction of health, and to re-weave tangled or torn energy webs. We need to twist and shout our way out of the boxes, constructed by limited and self-limiting belief systems, that we sometimes mistake for home.
     Keeping a journal and letting fresh words and images burst from our dreams and adventures is a way of putting yourself on the way to becoming a poet of consciousness who can offer word doctoring in this way.

text adapted from Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the Secret Wishes of the Soul. by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books. 

Image: cover of a dream art journal kept by dream teacher Véronique Barek-Deligny

Friday, December 5, 2014

Marry your field

"The poet marries the language, and out of this marriage the poem is born." This beautiful, passionate statement was made by W.H. Auden and it takes us right inside the crucible in which all creative action is born. It's sexy, it's spiritual, it makes your heart beat faster, it puts a champagne fizz of excitement into the air. It suffuses everything around with incredible light, so you feel you are seeing the curve of a flower stem or the bubbles in a glass for the very first time.
     Such depth, such passion, such focused rapture is not only the province of poets, though we may need poetic speech to suggest what and how it is. Are you with me now? I am talking about you, and me, and the creative leap we can and will make as the year turns. The essence of the creative act is to bring something new into the world. You may have no earthly idea, at this moment, about how exactly you can do that.
     So let me offer some eminently practical guidance, based on what Auden said about the roots of creation. Start by marrying your field.
    What is your field? It's not work in the ordinary sense, or what your diplomas say you are certified to do, or how you describe yourself in a job resume - although it can encompass all of those things. Your field is where you ache to be. Your field is what you will do, day or night, for the sheer joy of the doing, without counting the cost or the consequences. Your field is the territory within which you can do The Work that your deeper life is calling you to do. Your field is not limitless. You can't bring anything into creative manifestation without accepting a certain form or channel, which requires you to set limits and boundaries. So your field is also the place within which the creative force that is in you will develop a form.
     If you are going to bring something new into your world, find the field you will marry, as the poet marries language, as the artist marries color and texture, as the chef marries taste and aroma, as the swimmer marries the water.
     Let's say that you have a notion that your creative act may involve writing. Maybe you even think you have a book, or a story or screenplay in you. For you, marrying the field will require you to marry words, and be their constant lover. You'll engage in orgies of reading, have tantric sex with a first (or third) draft. You'll kiss your lover in the morning by writing before you go out into the world, and when you go out you'll gather bouquets for your sweetheart by collecting fresh material from the call of a bird, the rattle of a streetcar, the odd accent of that guy on the cellphone, that unexpected phrase in the ad in the subway car.
     You'll work at all this, because marriages aren't always sweet. Some days you may hardly be on speaking terms. Some days you feel your partner hates you or is cheating on you with someone else, maybe the fellow who just got a piece in the New Yorker or is merely in front of the mike in the neighborhood poetry slam. But you carry on. You fetch the groceries. You tuck your partner up in bed at night, and promise to dream together.
     And out of this constancy - through tantrums and all - will come that blaze of creation when the sun shines at midnight, when time will stop or speed for you as you will, when you are so deep in the Zone that no move can be wrong. Depending on your choice of theme and direction, you may find you are joined by other creative intelligences, reaching to you from across time and dimensions in that blessed union that another poet, Yeats, defined as the "mingling of minds".
     When the sun no longer shines at midnight, when you are back on clock time, you won't waste yourself regretting that today you're not in the Zone. You are still married. You'll do the work that now belongs to The Work. 
"Voyage" by Eve Fouquet. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Walking the dream

When I am at home, I start the day by holding my memories of my dream adventures in my mind before getting out of bed. I want to be able to replay the best of my overnight movies. I am eager to harvest what can give guidance and juice for the day. Sometimes I want to dwell on details and bring back a full narrative report. Sometimes I am happy to let details fade and simply hold the heart of a dream, or a single thread I can pull to bring back the rest at another time, or follow back through the labyrinth of the dream space. While many in our society are suffering from a dream drought, some of us are so prolific in our dream recall that we risk swamping ourselves with too much information. Less can be more.    
     When I have wrapped my head around enough of what happened in my night expeditions, I have a quick gulp of coffee before walking my little dog, who has been waiting patiently for me to return to his world. My dream will walk with us.
    This morning, I am still excited and deeply stirred by a dream adventure in which I was in the situation and seemingly the body of a Royal Air Force pilot in World War II. I have known him, perhaps, since before my present life. As I pause for my dog to sniff a fire hydrant, I think about him, and a nurse that he loved, and what was going on in the dream. I feel a deep sense of communion with this man, who died before I was born. I feel that somehow I am present in his life, and he is active in mind.
     As on most days, I make it my practice to notice three new things in the two blocks we walk before we get to the big park. A license plate is often one of them. The one I notice today belongs to a registered nurse. This speaks to me, Over all the years I have been teaching Active Dreaming, the nursing profession has been the #1 occupational group represented in my workshops. Nurses have so many practical applications for the techniques. It speaks to me again, even more strongly, because of the dream that is walking with me. The Pilot loved a nurse.
    In the park, as we walk round the lake, I am simply open to what the world gives me. This morning, I nod to the beautiful weeping willow across the water. Her hair, which was green last week, is yellow and thinning as winter comes on.
    I come home, grab a full mug of coffee, and sit down to type up my dream report and my notes on what I observed in the world around me. In my Sidewalk Tarot today, I did not notice any trumps. But there was a court card, for me, in the RN's license plate. Princess of Cups, perhaps. Or Princess - even Queen - of Disks.
    Now I will do another everyday practice: getting guidance from a book. This may be called bibliomancy, literally "divination by the book". But today I am content with stichomancy, "divination by the line." I have already chosen the book. I am going back to Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic philosopher whose fragments tickle the cognitive brain and arouse and delight the imagination. I am using the translation, with extensive commentaries, by Charles H. Kahn. The book falls open.
     I close my eyes and let my pointing finger decide which line will be the one for today.
     I open my eyes. My finger is pointing at fragment C (for 100, in Kahn's numeration, B24 in the old Diels and Kranz collection). The translation reads:

Gods and men honor those who fall in battle.

     I'm not immediately thrilled. War and violence and blood-stained heroes. Oh dear. Yet when I go back to the original Greek and consider levels of meaning, I feel a deep sense of confirmation of the truth and importance of my dream, which took me into the life of a very brave man who was killed in a war.

ἀρηϊφάτους θεοὶ τιμῶσι καὶ ἄνθρωποι

The literal translation is "Gods and men honor those slain by Ares."
    The line from Heraclitus deepens my sense from my dream that there is community between the dead and the living, between mortals and immortals: communion as well as communication.
     I write a one-liner for the morning.

     I am in communion with the dead. They are alive in me, and I am alive in them.

     I write this again on an index card, in the fairest hand I can manage. I place the card in a deck of similar cards that contain dream summaries, thoughts for the day and similar inscriptions. I have several of these hand-made decks. They include hundred of cards written in other hands, by people who play the Coincidence Card game I invented in my workshops; you can find the rules for that in my book The Three "Only" Things.         When I want to use cartomancy as an everyday oracle, I will often pluck from one of my private decks rather than a set of cards produced by others according to a formal system. This is the dreamer's way: fresh words, spontaneous images. Still, there are ancient springs that are ever-renewing. This week, I'll stich (no typo) with Heraclitus.

Walking to the Willow. Photo (c) Robert Moss

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sing in me, Muse

When embarking on a creative project, I often think of the Greeks, who thought it was always a good idea to invoke the muse, or creative spirit.
    Homer's Odyssey is a famous example. At the very beginning, the author invokes the muse of poetry, "daughter of Zeus".  In Robert Fitzgerald's version, he prays, “Through me tell the story." In the more recent Robert Fagles translation, he says,

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy. 

The Odyssey is the tale of a wanderer, a “man of many ways” (polytropos) who was “harried for years on end” after he plundered the sacred places of Troy. His homecoming was delayed, within sight of Ithaca, when his men killed and feasted on the sacred cattle of the sun. We read in this that we must do the work for a higher purpose than filling our bellies. The key thing is to call in the larger power. In the Fitzgerald version:

Of these adventures, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
Tell us in our time, lift the great song again.

Perhaps the Homeric invocation, borrowing the Fitzgerald version, could be simplified as follows:

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story.
Tell us in our time, lift the great song again. [Odyssey I, lines 1 & 18]

Note that the Muse here (mousa) is not yet job-specific; the early Greeks did not divide up musing functions between the nine nymphs familiar to the Renaissance. At the oldest level of the Muse cult, there appear to have been three, not nine, Muses.
    Pausanias, greatest of ancient travel guides, preserves a tradition of two generations of Muses; the first were daughters of Uranus and Gaia, the second of Zeus and Mnemosyine. He named the three primal Muses as Melete (Practise), Aiode (Song), and Mneme (Memory). In both versions, as mother goddess (Mnemosyne) or as muse (Mneme), Memory is a primary force in creation.
    This inspires me to remember to call on a greater power - call it muse or creative spirit or daimon - to favor and help in creative work. To do this well, we can't just borrow old words, however grand, from a dead poet, even if he stands above almost all the others in the ranks of the Dead Poets Society. We must come up with fresh words to entertain and engage those greater powers.
    Before writing my most recent book, The Boy Who Died and Came Back, I wrote an invocation, clearly influenced by the way Homer addressed his Muse, but fresh and original and true to the new material. Indeed, this poetic "Offering" became a plan for the whole book:


Sing in me, creative spirit
of the boy who died and came back
and the man who flew through the black sun
and returned to walk the roads of this world
as the envoy of a deeper world;
and of how (being human)
he falls down and gets up, over and over,
forgets and remembers,
remembers and forgets.

Let me explain through his story
how the world is a playground, not a prison
when we awaken to the game behind the games.
Let this story help those who read it
to find their bigger and braver stories
and live them, and tell them well enough
to entertain the spirits,
win the indulgence of the gods
and bring through effortless healing.

   On the way to writing my current book, I wrote a poem as an initial offering to my creative spirit. For now, that is between me and the Muse. If you have a creative venture in mind, you might want to consider finding your own words to invite the participation of your own creative spirits.

 Image: Dante Gabriel Rossetti's vision of Mnemosyne.